Prince Edward Island Legal Aid is an access to justice program, providing legal representation and assistance to low income individuals who have serious legal needs in the areas of criminal law, youth criminal justice, or family and civil law. The program has a staff of nine full-time lawyers with offices in Charlottetown and Summerside. In addition a number of private sector lawyers provide assistance on a legal aid referral basis in cases where more than one lawyer is required or staff lawyers are unable to act due to professional conflict rules.
About Criminal Legal Aid
Criminal legal aid provides access to legal representation and assistance in the criminal trial process. Through this program lawyers are provided to represent eligible adults or young persons who would otherwise be unable to afford legal counsel to deal with a serious criminal charge or investigation. The overall purpose of criminal legal aid is to ensure that every individual can have a fair trial and that no one is wrongfully convicted or unfairly sentenced.
Do I have to apply or will the court appoint a lawyer for me?
In Canada, the criminal courts do not appoint lawyers for accused persons. Apart from youth criminal justice proceedings, where there are additional safeguards for the assistance of legal counsel, anyone who wishes to be represented by a lawyer, must either hire a private lawyer or apply to be represented by a lawyer through a legal aid program.
Will duty counsel be available at the criminal court where I am to appear if I do not apply for legal aid?
PEI does not offer a duty counsel program at criminal court locations. Although criminal legal aid staff lawyers are usually present on docket days, when all new criminal charges are brought before the court, they will not have information about your case and they may not have time to speak to you before your case is called. It is always best to apply for legal aid before your court date.
About Family and Civil Legal Aid
Family legal aid provides direct legal representation and assistance by lawyers to individuals who cannot afford to hire a private law firm lawyer when faced with a serious family or related civil legal problem.
What types of legal problems are covered by family and civil legal aid?
Family applications involving domestic violence or threats to the personal security of the applicant or children in a family situation are given the highest priority for assistance. Financial eligibility rules may be waived or relaxed to enable access to legal counsel in emergency situations where there is a risk to personal security.
In less urgent family situations, priority is focused on the legal needs of dependent children. Prioritized needs in this category include custody, access, financial support, and housing.
Other civil legal aid services covered by PEI Legal Aid are closely related to family law. The areas of law that are covered presently include child protection law, involuntary hospitalization under mental health laws, guardianship, and adult protection. Limited assistance may be offered in other civil law areas depending on the availability of resources.
How do I apply for legal aid?
The first step is to contact your local legal aid office in Charlottetown or Summerside, to make an application. If your legal problem is one that is covered by legal aid, staff will assist in completing your application.
What information do I need to provide when I apply for legal aid?
If you contact PEI Legal Aid to apply for legal assistance, you will be asked to provide information about your financial circumstances and legal needs including the following:
- information about the legal proceedings
- your income and employment status
- your spouse or partner’s income and employment status
- family size and dependents living in your household
- child or spousal support payments
- financial information about your property
- financial information about assets, debts, and liabilities
- whether you or anyone else involved in the legal proceedings has ever applied for legal aid previously
Depending on the amount and type of legal assistance that you will require, you may be asked to provide further documentary proof of your income and other circumstances. The onus to establish financial eligibility is on the applicant.
Financial Eligibility Guideline Scale
A financial eligibility scale based on income and family size is used as a guideline in determining eligibility. The scale is only one of several factors that must be considered in each case. Other factors relate to the urgency and seriousness of your legal needs; the coverage and resources of the legal aid program; your ability to obtain legal assistance if legal aid is refused. The current Financial Eligibility Scale is as follows:
PEI Legal Aid Financial Eligibility Guideline Scale: (before income tax)
When will I know whether my legal aid application will be approved?
Most applicants can be informed by legal aid intake staff whether their application is likely to be approved. After the initial intake interview is completed, a staff lawyer will assess your legal needs and determine your eligibility for further assistance. At that stage the staff lawyer may authorize:
- summary advice
- a further assessment of legal needs or the merit of the application
- limited assistance
- full assistance
In emergency situations, involving serious legal needs, the staff lawyer may authorize temporary assistance even if your income is substantially above the financial eligibility guidelines.
Can I get legal aid to appeal a court decision?
Different eligibility tests are applied depending on whether you are requesting assistance to respond to an appeal that has been filed by the Crown or other opposing party, or whether you are the party wishing to file an appeal. The legal aid eligibility test is higher if you are the party requesting to file an appeal. Few cases are appealed and even fewer appeals are successful. You may request legal aid to advise you about whether you should file an appeal. If it is determined that you have good grounds for appeal, a legal aid lawyer may file an appeal on your behalf and represent you in the appeal court.
If my application for legal aid is refused, can I ask to have the decision reviewed?
Yes, Legal Aid is always willing to review and reconsider a refused application. You may ask intake staff or the lawyer who notified you of the refusal to refer your file to the Director of Legal Aid for a review. If your circumstances have changed or if there is additional information that you wish to have considered, you should provide that information along with your request for a review.
About Professional Qualifications of Legal Aid and Private Law Firm Lawyers
The Law Society of Prince Edward Island sets professional qualification and training standards for all lawyers in the province. In addition, most lawyers take special education and training in the type of law that they practice. Professional training and experience standards are the same for legal aid and private sector lawyers. Lawyers employed by PEI Legal Aid will be happy to discuss their training and experience to assist with your legal needs.
Criminal legal aid applications and inquiries:
Phone: 902-368-6043 (Charlottetown)
Phone: 902-888-8219 (Summerside)
Family and civil legal aid applications and inquiries:
Phone: 902-368-6656 (Charlottetown)
Phone: 902-888-8066 (Summerside)